Signs and Symptoms of the Most Common Behavior Disorders in Children

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Behavior disorders are more than just occasional temper tantrums or defiant behavior. Genuine childhood behavior disorders are much more serious. A child with a diagnosable behavior disorder experiences behavior problems that are severe enough to interfere with school performance or relationships with friends and family.

Behavior disorders can get worse over time without treatment so it’s important to get a child evaluated by a qualified mental health professional if you suspect a behavior disorder.

The Most Commonly Diagnosed Behavior Disorders in Children

There are several different types of behavior disorders found in children and teens, and sometimes children have more than one.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood disorders. There are three main types of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Types of ADHD

  • Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive
  • Predominantly inattentive
  • Combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive

Common symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Problems processing information quickly and accurately
  • Disorganization
  • Difficulty following instructions
  • Talking incessantly
  • Inability to sit still
  • Trouble participating in quiet activities
  • Impatience
  • Blurting out answers or saying inappropriate comments
  • Doing things without considering the consequences

Although medication can be helpful in reducing the symptoms in some children, parenting interventions can also be helpful in reducing a lot of behavior problems associated with hyperactivity and impulsivity. Sometimes children with ADHD also have an oppositional defiant disorder.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Oppositional defiant disorder is characterized by persistent defiance and disobedience toward authority figures. Symptoms may include:

  • Frequent arguing with adults
  • Deliberately annoying other people
  • Refusing to follow rules
  • Blaming others for mistakes
  • Becoming easily angered
  • Behaving in a vindictive manner

Children with ODD display symptoms at home, at school, and in other environments. Their behavior usually leads to a need for frequent disciplinary action and they tend to struggle to get along with their peers. Without intervention, ODD may develop into conduct disorder.

Conduct Disorder

Conduct disorder involves a repetitive pattern of violation of other people’s rights or persistent violation of age-appropriate social rules. Conduct disorder often includes:

  • Physical aggression toward people or animals
  • Use of a weapon, such as a bat, knife, or gun
  • Stealing
  • Forcing someone into sexual activity
  • Deliberate fire setting
  • Destruction of property and vandalism
  • Lying to obtain goods or to avoid obligations
  • Running away from home
  • Skipping school
  • Staying out late at night despite curfew rules

Children with conduct disorder are frequently suspended from school. They may require police intervention and sometimes, they abuse drugs or alcohol. Adolescents with conduct disorder may require intensive interventions, such as in-home supports or even residential placement.

Treatment for Behavior Disorders

Behavior disorders are usually best treated with an entire team of professionals. Child psychiatrists can be helpful if medication is necessary. Therapists can assist children with learning new skills to manage their emotions and behavior as well as to provide parent training.

Special education services may be necessary. Children with behavior disorders and emotional disturbances may require a lot of extra support at school, including specialized classrooms. Sometimes psychologists can perform testing to rule out learning disabilities or other underlying mental health issues that may be contributing to the behavior problems.

Behavior disorders can result from a variety of genetic and environmental factors. If you suspect your child may have a behavior disorder, it’s important to speak to your child’s pediatrician. The pediatrician may provide an evaluation and refer your child for further testing or treatment.

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  1. MedlinePlus. Child Behavior Disorders. Updated September 10, 2019.

  2. Singh A, Yeh CJ, Verma N, Das AK. Overview of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Young Children. Health Psychol Res. 2015;3(2):2115. doi:10.4081/hpr.2015.2115

  3. Ghosh A, Ray A, Basu A. Oppositional defiant disorder: current insight. Psychol Res Behav Manag. 2017;10:353-367. doi:10.2147/PRBM.S120582

  4. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Conduct Disorder. Updated June 2018.